Well, at the risk of upsetting the current device juggernaut, I don’t think the answer is to run out and buy shedloads of iPods and iPads without considering the alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, I own one and it’s a splendid device, but I do feel that there’s a momentum developed where schools are thinking that a) tablets are the only way forward and b) iPads are the only tablet solution. I don’t think it’s that simple. There are some excellent Android-based tablets around (though if you do buy £60 specials from Hong Kong via eBay, don’t expect a pleasant experience). Pay for a decent make and you a) won’t be saving money on an iPad, but b) won’t have wasted any either.
The iPad mini is getting a lot of press , but at £230-ish it’s twice the price of a similar sized Samsung Galaxy from PC World. That differential ought to be a factor to consider. The Google Nexus is similarly priced, but as it doesn’t have a camera that faces the right way to take pictures, I’m dismissing this as a useful tool for education.
Tablets of any flavour are designed as a home consumer device first and foremost. Like any other device, they’ve been bent to fit another market- the education one- pretty successfully in many cases, but they shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the laptop. It’s not what they were built for and there are some tasks that are still done with greater ease and just better on laptops. Ignore old school at your peril.
Microsoft Surface is new, so new I don’t know anyone who has seen one, but I’d be pretty confident that their collection of Apps won’t be much at the moment, it’ll grow rapidly and if you’re a Cloud user, that might not be as important.
Chromebooks are an interesting alternative, especially for those schools who are using cloud-based products for a lot of their curriculum delivery- Google Docs, MS 365, J2E, and Purple Mash, to name but a few. They run online, so like a tablet, wireless web access is vital, and as well accessing via the web, you can get apps for these devices too, though nowhere near as many as you can for Apple devices.
And so to apps…. I sometimes wonder if the argument that ‘there are thousands of apps for’ is a really powerful one. I know that there are some real gems available, but there’s also some total dross. I can see the benefits of apps to assist spelling, times tables, punctuation, but have reservations that collecting these en masse is a good thing. Remeber eLearning Credits where schools ended up buying software that sat on shelves gathering dust? I fear that accquiring apps willy nilly might could lead us down a similar path and these expensive devices won’t be used to their best. Of course, playing appropriate games can be a valuiable motivational tool for pupils, but in that case, would a school be better off subscribing to a games-based product like I Am Learning? It provides the motivation, but also has teacher control and record keeping built in. Possibly this is less critical with free apps, but if you’re purchasing for multiple apps across multiple devices, the cost will soon mount.
I feel that using a smaller number of apps well will lead to far greater impact than using lots less well, but that’s just me and I do realise that for certain pupils in certain circumstances a well chosen app is a winner, but there’s no time here for the consumer v producer debate, anyway, there’s a good one here.
Which leads me nicely to my next point that whilst looking at some of the splendid work done with tablets a lot of the apps are available on both Apple and Android and other work is reliant on web access, so the choice of device is irrelevant. I use Evernote and it’s on my iPad, my Windows laptop and my Android powered phone, so it matters not which device I reach for. Many other resources are also available for both operating systems (Animoto) and if it isn’t, they’ll be something pretty similar or it’ll be ported across in due course. Apple has more, and that’ll probably always be the case, but back to my point earlier.. how many apps do you really need?
One last thing to consider is for the time being is the collection of pupils’ work. If you need an evidence trail, how to you get it off your tablet to where you want it? Having pupils email work to you is fine, but you’ll end up with a plethora of emails. Maybe the evidence is in a school blog, sent from the device, or uploaded to your learning platform. Something else to think about! That’s one reason why I continue to enthuse about JIT and J2E (app for J2E available for iPad and Andoid on its way). The software stores the work where a teacher can get it. I’m a tad uncomfortable with the work living on the device only.
So, which device to purchase? Well, that depends on what you, but if nothing else, I hope that this blog entry has at least made you think about the options open to you. Maybe it’s not a question of which one, but which ones you purchase next. Whatever you choose, think about what you want to acheive with this expenditure or your shiny new devices might prove to be an expensive mistake.